Angela Grimes of Born Free USA: “Nature is everywhere!”

Pick a family cause or issue based on your interests and then donate, volunteer, and take action. If you like hiking or going for bike rides, then forest preservation or reducing pollution could be your cause. If you like swimming or going to the beach, then clean water may be important to you. Make an […]

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Pick a family cause or issue based on your interests and then donate, volunteer, and take action. If you like hiking or going for bike rides, then forest preservation or reducing pollution could be your cause. If you like swimming or going to the beach, then clean water may be important to you. Make an environmental or conservation connection to the things you like to do in your everyday lives, and then do something to help.


As part of my series about what we must do to inspire the next generation about sustainability and the environment, I had the pleasure of interviewing Angela Grimes.

Angela Grimes is Born Free USA’s Chief Executive Officer. She has more than 25 years of experience in the nonprofit sector. Inspired by observing wildlife living freely in their jungle homes while volunteering for a sea turtle project in Costa Rica, Angela moved from arts administration to wildlife protection, where she has served in senior and executive level positions since 2004. She has a degree from Drake University. She has served on the boards of directors of several arts and animal welfare organizations and is currently on the board of EarthShare.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about how you grew up?

I grew up in a Midwestern factory town. It was the typical (romanticized) Generation X middle class childhood. I walked by myself to elementary school. I explored the woods behind our house and played outside until my mother yelled out the door to come home. I had dance, violin, and piano lessons every week. We went camping most summer weekends, spending the days water skiing on the lake.

Was there an “aha moment” or a specific trigger that made you decide you wanted to become a scientist or environmental leader? Can you share that story with us?

The catalyst for my pursuing a career in animal welfare was a volunteer trip to Costa Rica, where I worked on a sea turtle protection project. I was surrounded by wildlife in their natural habitats. Howler monkeys woke me up each morning. When I left my boots to dry on a sunny rock, I would find an iguana draped across them — I had taken her rock! My “ah ha” realization was that I was in their home, and they deserved to be free and undisturbed. That’s when I knew I need to work to make the world a better place for animals.

Is there a lesson you can take out of your own story that can exemplify what can inspire a young person to become an environmental leader?

Explore. Explore until you find what is most meaningful to you, and then seek opportunities that will allow you to develop a spectrum of skills. Being a leader involves more than having the academic knowledge. Take opportunities in school, social groups, church, or sports teams to hone your abilities. I worked in a grocery store, as a pre-school teacher, and as an administrative assistant. Each job had valuable learning opportunities. Find the gems of opportunity that will keep you moving forward on your path to being a leader.

Can you tell our readers about the initiatives that you or your company are taking to address climate change or sustainability? Can you give an example for each?

Born Free USA does not advocate for “sustainable use” of animals or habitat. We believe wildlife belongs in the wild and all exploitation is inherently cruel and destructive. We aim to end practices such as trapping, use of fur for fashion, the trade in wildlife as pets, and the commercial trade in live animals and their parts. For example, our field-based work in West Africa aims to stops the trade in wildlife through capacity building. We train customs officers to identify illegally traded species and train judges and prosecutors to investigate and prosecute criminals; and we facilitate collaboration throughout the region and provide the tools and resources to end wildlife crime in this important, and often overlooked, biodiverse part of the world.

Can you share 3 lifestyle tweaks that the general public can do to be more sustainable or help address the climate change challenge?

The phrase “reduce, reuse, recycle” comes to mind. Reducing consumption is the most important of those. There are hundreds of ways we can modify our behaviors to simply use less of our natural resources and reduce the mass we contribute to landfills and pollution. Be wary of fast fashion and disposable goods; purchase items that will stand the test of time. Walk 10 minutes rather than driving to a nearby shop. Prioritize minimal packaging and avoid single use plastics. Drink water from the tap! It is important to note that not everyone has the means to choose environmentally friendly products; has access to clean drinking water; or more expensive, yet longer-lasting household goods. We have to advocate for regulations and standards that make these things and so much more accessible and affordable for all.

Ok, thank you for all that. Here is the main question of our interview: The youth led climate strikes of September 2019 showed an impressive degree of activism and initiative by young people on behalf of climate change. This was great, and there is still plenty that needs to be done. In your opinion what are 5 things parents should do to inspire the next generation to become engaged in sustainability and the environmental movement? Please give a story or an example for each.

One of the most powerful things that everyone can do is examine our own actions and attitudes towards animals and the environment and make changes to live in a way that limits our negative impact on them.

  1. Avoid attending circuses, zoos, and aquariums. Discuss with children how these industries exploit animals. Learn about wild animals — as they live in the wild — and how to respect and protect them in their natural homes.
  2. Nature is everywhere! Appreciate and learn about the wildlife in your own backyards. Go on an “internet safari.” There are so many cross-discipline learning opportunities that can also lead to learning about other cultures, people, and places that furthers our global understanding.
  3. Dispel the myths and fears associated with species commonly considered nuisances and model this behavior. If a child is fearful of a spider in the house, calmly scoop her up and put her outside. If there is an opossum or raccoon in the yard, exclaim how exciting that is — that they eat insects and rodents and help keep the natural world in balance.
  4. Choose plant-based meals. Shifting away from meat and other animal products reduces fresh water use, carbon emissions, and waste products that end up in our waterways and soil. It also contributes to global food security and saves virgin habitats from being destroyed to make way for crop production.
  5. Pick a family cause or issue based on your interests and then donate, volunteer, and take action. If you like hiking or going for bike rides, then forest preservation or reducing pollution could be your cause. If you like swimming or going to the beach, then clean water may be important to you. Make an environmental or conservation connection to the things you like to do in your everyday lives, and then do something to help.

How would you articulate how a business can become more profitable by being more sustainable and more environmentally conscious? Can you share a story or example?

There are a number of case studies that show that sustainable operations benefit the bottom line, but I ask this: why should increasing the profit margin be the deciding factor in choosing to be a sustainable or environmentally friendly company? We have an ethical obligation to protect nature, source responsibly, and pay fair wages throughout the supply chain — not for the good of the company, but for the good of humanity and the Earth because it is the moral thing to do.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

Karen Deschere, my boss at the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, gets all credit for shaping me into a leader. She taught me one of the most valuable lessons I needed: to see the gray between the black and white — that there isn’t always one right or wrong answer or a single path to success, and that to consider various perspectives and possibilities leads to better outcomes. She taught me the value of listening and giving credence to other viewpoints. She supported my career move, and when I left the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, she was my friend, and later became colleagues on an executive level. I still remember the feeling when she first asked me for my advice. We were in close contact until she passed about a year ago.

You are a person of great influence and doing some great things for the world! If you could inspire a movement that would bring the greatest amount of good to the greatest amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

We must invest in nature. The planet is in crisis. We can secure a viable future for all life on Earth, but we need our leaders to act now and to act boldly to halt and reverse biodiversity loss and wildlife overexploitation. We need our leaders to deliver enhanced and sustainable ecosystem viability and services, alongside climate change mitigation; and promote public and animal health, sustainable livelihoods, and food and societal security through international commitments and a reformation of the way nature recovery is financed at the highest global levels.

Do you have a favorite life lesson quote? Can you tell us how that was relevant to you in your own life?

“Be compassionate and kind.” Respecting humans, animals, and nature is the first step to solving the smallest personal conflicts to the biggest global problems.

What is the best way for people to follow you on social media?

Readers can follow Born Free USA on Twitter (www.twitter.com/bornfreeusa), Facebook (www.facebook.com/bornfreeusa), and Instagram (www.instagram.com/bornfreeusaorg). They can also visit our website to learn more about our work, read interesting articles about wildlife issues, and take action for animals at www.bornfreeusa.org.

This was so inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!

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